Meet Chesa Boudin, the Rogue Prosecutor Wreaking Havoc in San Francisco

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Meet Chesa Boudin, the Rogue Prosecutor Wreaking Havoc in San Francisco

Aug 11, 2021 10 min read

Commentary By

Zack Smith @tzsmith

Senior Legal Fellow, Meese Center for Legal Studies

Charles “Cully” Stimson @cullystimson

Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director, Meese Center

If radical change is what the voters of San Francisco wanted, they certainly got it, although many are now experiencing a severe case of buyer’s remorse.  Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Their goal is to fundamentally reverse-engineer the criminal justice system by replacing independent law-and-order prosecutors with pro-criminal zealots.

Victims are in danger, because of Boudin’s reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible abrogation of his duty to faithfully enforce the criminal laws on the books.

Much of the blame for the burgeoning crime problems lies at Boudin’s doorstep.

This commentary is another in a series on rogue prosecutors around the country who have been backed by liberal billionaires such as George Soros and Cari Tuna, and the threat those prosecutors pose to crime victims and others alike.

In November 2019, after winning his race to serve as the district attorney of San Francisco, Chesa Boudin said, “The people of San Francisco have sent a powerful and clear message: It’s time for radical change to how we envision justice.” 

Well, if radical change is what the voters of San Francisco wanted, they certainly got it, although many are now experiencing a severe case of buyer’s remorse. 

That is why he—like fellow Soros-backed rogue prosecutor George Gascon, the Los Angeles district attorney—is facing a recall petition, and for good reason.

Boudin, 40, is one of several dozen rogue prosecutors elected to public office, thanks in most part to Soros (or his political action committees or wealthy liberal friends). Their goal, as we have written in a major research paper on the rogue prosecutor movement, is to fundamentally reverse-engineer the criminal justice system by replacing independent law-and-order prosecutors (Democrats and Republicans alike) with pro-criminal, anti-victim zealots who flout the rule of law, abuse their offices, and as a result, see crime explode in their cities. 

But unlike other rogue prosecutors who we have previously profiled in this series, such as GasconMarilyn Mosby (Baltimore), Rachael Rollins (Boston), Kim Foxx (Chicago), or even the hapless Steve Descano (Fairfax County, Virginia), Boudin never served as a prosecutor before he was elected.

Acorn Didn’t Fall From Tree

To say that Boudin does not have the background of a typical prosecutor would be an understatement. In 1981, when Boudin was a baby, his parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, both members the Weather Underground, a radical, militant Marxist organization, drove the getaway car following an armed robbery of a Brinks truck in New York, in which a Brinks guard and two police officers were fatally shot. 

Boudin was raised in Chicago by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, co-founders of the Weather Underground, who organized a series of bombings of public buildings to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and who lived underground as fugitives for many years.

Boudin’s mother was released from prison in 2003, while his father is still incarcerated.   

While condemning his parents’ crime, Boudin initially embarked down a more predictable professional career path. Before attending law school, Boudin lived in Venezuela and served as a translator to then-President Hugo Chavez. After law school, Boudin served as a law clerk to two federal judges and then worked for several years in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, where, among other things, he argued on behalf of his clients that the California bail system is unconstitutional. 

In 2019, flush with Soros campaign money and feel-good talking points, Boudin ran for district attorney, promising to end “mass incarceration,” to end cash bail, to establish a unit to review alleged wrongful convictions, to aggressively prosecute police misconduct, and to refuse to provide any assistance to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. 

What “Quality of Life”?

Declaring the death penalty to be “racist” and “immoral,” Boudin agreed to resentence the one person on death row in his jurisdiction and pledged that his office would not seek the death penalty in any future cases. He also signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to end the death penalty in federal cases.

Boudin announced when he was elected that he was going to deemphasize the prosecution of drug cases, so-called quality of life cases, and property offenses—the exact opposite of the effective, proactive “broken windows” approach to law enforcement that worked so successfully in cities like New York under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. 

What have the results been? 

Regarding drug offenses, the “Tenderloin,” which Boudin has described as “one of the most diverse” neighborhoods in San Francisco, is awash with human misery. Drug dealers—mostly gang members—openly hawk their wares, usually with impunity. Drug addicts shoot up and collapse in the streets. First responders crisscross the neighborhood trying to revive overdosing individuals. Sometimes, they’re too late. 

Children and families have to step over used hypodermic needles and mounds of human feces.  Shootings are not uncommon occurrences. In late May, it was reported that “284 different individuals were arrested for selling drugs more than once. Of those, 89 were arrested [three] times, one individual was arrested seven times last year. Of the 30 or so individuals who make up the most repeat arrests, not a single one of them is currently in custody.”

More than 700 suffered fatal overdoses last year in the city, a record that is likely to be surpassed this year, according to the chief medical examiner. A Twitter page captures the fear and suffering in the “Tenderloin,” while officials just shrug their shoulders. 

Regarding property offenses, the police department recently reported that vehicle break-ins are up between 100% and 750% in parts of the city. In May alone, the number of reported vehicle thefts (1,891) was more than double the 923 reported in May 2020.

Shoplifting Surge Spawns Shutdowns

“Smash-and-grabs” at retail stores are becoming commonplace, and a number of them have been filmed by incredulous shoppers. This has prompted some stores to put all their items behind locked display cases, a mere annoyance to many thieves who have no problem breaking the glass enclosures. 

Walgreens reports that it has spent 35 times more on security guards at its San Francisco stores than in other cities where it operates and recently announced that it was closing 17 stores in the city. Target stores are now closing early because of rampant shoplifting at certain locations. Among major cities, San Francisco had one of the largest increases in burglaries last year (up by 52%), a trend that has continued this year.

As should be evident, the only “quality of life” Boudin is improving is for criminals, who don’t worry a bit about being arrested, much less going to jail or prison for their crimes.

Victims, including owners of businesses small and large, people who own cars, homeowners, apartment dwellers, and law-abiding residents of the city are suffering, and are in danger, because of Boudin’s reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible abrogation of his duty to faithfully enforce the criminal laws on the books.

Boudin, like his fellow rogue prosecutors, has taken his marching orders from the rogue prosecutors movement, who have the gall to call themselves “progressive prosecutors”—as though they created any pro-victim, law-and-order program to protect society. 

Those marching orders include: (1) refusing to prosecute huge categories of crimes, thereby usurping the power of the legislature and unilaterally deciding which laws should—or shouldn’t—be enforced; (2) abusing the power and authority of their offices by not enforcing the law; (3) ignoring or not supporting actual victims of crimes; and (4) contributing to a massive spike in crime in their cities with their pro-criminal, anti-victim, and anti-police policies.

Jail Cells’ Revolving Doors

Since taking office, Boudin has also been criticized for releasing suspects with long criminal records who have gone on—surprise, surprise—to commit other crimes. 

Jerry Lyons had a record dating back to 2007, including charges of attempted robbery, burglary, evading police, driving a stolen vehicle, weapons charges, shoplifting, trespassing, and drug charges. 

Last December, Lyons, driving a stolen car, was observed running a red light, making an illegal U-turn, driving over a traffic median, and weaving between two lanes. He was on supervised release for a theft case at that time. He was arrested for driving a stolen car and without a license and on suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  

Boudin’s office insisted on getting the positive lab results back before charging Lyons, who had been released by the time those lab results were returned.  On Jan. 22, an intoxicated Lyons, driving a stolen truck, ran a red light and plowed into eight cars, killing Sheria Musyoka, 26, and severely injuring three others.

And then there was Troy McAlister. Until April 2020, McAlister, who had previously been convicted of robbery and carjacking, was in jail awaiting trial on another robbery charge, which would have made him eligible for a life sentence under California’s three-strikes law. 

After Boudin (who at one time represented McAlister) issued a policy memorandum directing his prosecutors not to pursue three-strikes cases, McAlister entered into a plea agreement, was given credit for time served while awaiting trial, and was immediately released. 

Following his release, McAlister was arrested several times on drug and theft charges over the ensuing months, but no charges were filed by Boudin’s office. Then, on New Year’s Eve, while fleeing the scene of a burglary while driving a car he had stolen two days beforehand and carrying a stolen gun, McAlister struck and killed Hanako Abe, 27, and Elizabeth Platt, 60.

Boudin’s office also has entered into indefensible plea-bargain agreements. For example, it was recently reported that an individual who robbed thousands of dollars’ worth of camera equipment from a professional photographer at gunpoint was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor noise violation, presumably because of the commotion caused by the gunpoint robbery. 

The prosecutor in that case was a recent Boudin recruit, having spent the previous seven years working as a public defender.

Recall Efforts Cross Ideological Lines

The crime situation in San Francisco is bad and appears to be getting worse. Shootings, both fatal and nonfatal, are up more than 100% for the first six months of this year over the same time period last year (from 58 to 119). 

To be sure, crime is down in some categories, and there are other factors at play, including San Francisco’s inexplicable decision to reduce its police department’s budget by $120 million, resulting in a massive shortfall in the number of police officers needed to tame the myriad crime issues facing the city. But much of the blame for the burgeoning crime problems lies at Boudin’s doorstep.

There are currently two recall initiatives underway against Boudin. At a recent rally, the leader of one of those efforts stated:

Chesa Boudin is failing to keep San Francisco safe. … San Franciscans deserve a district attorney who responds seriously to the skyrocket of home break-ins, car break-ins, open drug-dealing on our streets, and assaults on our elders in our parks, in our neighborhoods, at our doorsteps.

Chesa Boudin refuses to hold serious and violent repeat offenders. It is our most vulnerable populations—our kids, grandparents, and folks who are barely making ends meet—who are suffering the most.

Was this some radical “lock-’em-up” right-winger?  Hardly.  The speaker was Andrea Shorter, an African- American woman and longtime resident of San Francisco.  Ms. Shorter, who has worked on criminal justice reform for years, is a former president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization of Women, has served on the Commission on the Status of Women, and has worked on LGBTQ issues.

Her impeccable liberal credentials notwithstanding, Ms. Shorter is simply fed up with what she is seeing.  Another of the rally’s organizers was the former chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.

Shorter recently stated, “By the eighth, ninth time that you have come before the district attorney on the same type of charges, there has to be consequences. …  Instead, it just seems to be going, ‘Well, what can we do to reduce felony charges to misdemeanor charges?’” 

We don’t need two public defenders. And right now, we have two public defenders: one that’s the public defender, and one that is a public defender in the District Attorney’s Office. 

Ms. Shorter is spot on.  San Franciscans deserve better. 

As Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., recently wrote, the only good Soros prosecutor is a defeated Soros prosecutor.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal